This post was first published on May 4, 2012.
By Peggy McGillicuddy
“To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body”
I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. For most of my adult life, I have worked directly with young children and their parents, but I am not a parent myself. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be, but life happens. Approaching 41, I’ve been officially diagnosed as infertile.
At the beginning of my career I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. Who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad? Eventually I realized that I had the empathy and skills to do the work regardless. But I quickly came to understand this: the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to experience it. This didn’t bother me, because I always thought, “someday I will know what it’s like…”
There is a strong possibility that “someday” won’t arrive.
Coming to terms with this has been difficult. I watch parents and children together, struggling through situations that are often not ideal. Addiction, poverty, divorce separation…problems that seem insurmountable. But one fact stands alone in the chaos. A connection so deep.
I watch kids introduce me to their parents, so proud. I see sons and daughters forgive a mom or dad, simply because of their parental role.
I can only imagine what it must be like. I can’t put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don’t want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.
I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child. I feel it in my gut on a daily basis. She is the mother of two adult children. Attempting to make me feel better, she said,
“Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them. They’re always yours. Even when they’re grown. If you never have kids, you won’t have to experience that kind of worry in your life.”
True. I won’t know what it’s like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won’t experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won’t need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.
I won’t be exposed to the pain that having a child could potentially bring. I will not have a life filled with worry. My heart won’t break each time my son or daughter feels disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it’s like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That’s what my life won’t be like.
And now I struggle to figure out what it will be. In a strange way, infertility can be a gift. Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back. Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships. It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.
And it’s led me on a quest, which has not yet been fulfilled. I no longer believe that the only way to experience your heart walking around outside of your body is by bearing children. There are other paths. I just need to discover what mine is.
Peggy McGillicuddy is counselor and group facilitator who is actively searching for her heart. To join her on this quest, check out her blog A Kid First!